Friday, October 24, 2014

Video of 4 Advocates Speaking About Violence & WLHIV

Four diverse cisgender and transgender female advocates share why it is crucial to raise awareness about the issue of violence against women and girls diagnosed with, affected by, or at risk for HIV. here to view the video!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In Memory of Elisha Henson

She was just a few years younger than me,
But she'd had a lifetime more pain than I.
Life can be cruel, and people can be judgmental.
Sometimes the way we choose to cope with pain
Can also create more pain even while it dulls the pain.
We all make mistakes.
We are always growing, learning.
Elisha wasn't perfect.
Neither are you
Neither am I.
But she, like you and I
And IS more than the sum of bad decisions.
More than mistakes - which we are ALL guilty of making,
More than flaws.
She was a daughter,
A sister,
A mother,
An aunt,
A wife,
A friend.
She had interests
She had people who loved her,
People who supported her,
People who prayed for her and rooted for her.
She had a whole life to live.
Those 3 letters - HIV - are NOT what ended her life
Elisha was killed by 4 letters...
Like Cicely was,
And numerous women across the globe.
Remember her name,
Remember her life.
End this hatred.
Stop the violence.
Don't let her death be in vain
Don't let another family bury their Elisha.
End violence against women living with HIV!
Elisha, you will NEVER be forgotten.

Almost Killed because of HIV

(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.)

My daughter is only 12 years old, and she doesn't have the greatest memory.  But still she remembers the day she almost got burned, years ago in Africa.

They took her in after her father died of an AIDS-related illness.  Her mother had died of the same a few years prior. They had promised her father they'd look after her.

But after several months, they were growing weary of the needs of yet another child. Especially a young child with an AIDS diagnosis. On top of caring for her, clothing her, and feeding her, they had to find a way to pay for the medication that she needed to live. They already had their own children and their own financial responsibilities. Though they'd given their word, they were beginning to feel burdened and resentful of the child.

The father was a devout Muslim and determined to keep his promise to his deceased friend. His wife, however, came from a family of herbalist that worshiped their ancestors as well as other African deities. She converted to Islam upon marrying her husband, but she still held fast to the beliefs that she grew up with. She was convinced that my daughter was "cursed" because of her HIV/AIDS status, and that she would bring destruction and bad luck upon the family. She begged her husband to get rid of my daughter and place her in an orphanage, but he did not. He wanted her to stay and asked his wife to try to give her a chance.

One day everything exploded.  My daughter and the other children were playing. They weren't supposed to play in or near the road, but they always did anyway, dodging quickly out of the way when a car approached and then returning when the car was gone.  Sadly, that day one of the sons of the family she lived with didn't move quickly enough, and he was hit.

Neighbors ran quickly to alert the parents. Fortunately, the little boy was not dead, but he was seriously injured. Praying fervently, the father left quickly with his son en route to the hospital to seek medical attention.  His wife remained at home with the other children, awaiting news.

Looking over at my daughter, she became enraged. She was certain that if my daughter hadn't been there, this wouldn't have happened.  Just as she had suspected, the AIDS child was cursed. And now because she was living with their family, they were now suffering for it.

She knew how to fix the problem.

She lit a fire.  When it was large enough, she began uttering the words needed for cleansing your home of an evil spirit.  She walked over to where the other children were seated quietly; they were not playing, as they were worried sick about Mohammed and were hoping he would be okay. They were just sitting there.

Grabbing my daughter, she lifted her high in the air.  Still uttering the proper words, she approached the open flames.  She was going to remove this evil spirit from this AIDS child once and for all.  This would save the child, and would save her family...

She was stopped.  Her older children, frightened, intercepted. One stood in front of the fire to block it. Another grabbed his mothers arms to prevent her from moving freely.  They told the younger children to run to get an adult neighbor for help.

My daughter was saved that day by the swift actions and bravery of those children.

She was moved, for her own safety, temporarily to an orphanage run by the Red Cross, and placed for international adoption.  The father and children visited her in the brief time that she was there.  Even little Mohammed, who had broken both legs when the car struck him, but fortunately survived.

She moved to the United States less than one year later.

Misconceptions surrounding HIV led to a violent act that could have killed her.  Thank God she is alive.  I'm blessed to be her mother, and so grateful that she has been able to live a happy, healthy life as a young lady with HIV.  I am hoping that she will grow up to be a strong, confident woman with HIV - until there's a cure.

A Bad Boyfriend

(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.)

I get tired of seeing him hit her. "Granny, you don't have to take that," I tell her all the time. He is a much younger man, married with children, and nowhere near as attractive and smart as she is.  Even at 53, Granny is still fine. Her hair hasn't turned grey yet, her skin is smooth. Her smile is sparkly white and her breasts are still high. The only thing wrong with her is that her cheeks are a little sunken in and her stomach is a little pudgy because of her ARVs for HIV/AIDS. But she still looks good and I think she can do better than him. But Granny thinks that no man is going to want her because she has AIDS. Not any man her age, anyway. When she grew up they hardly used protection and everything could be cured with a shot of penicillin. She said they used to call STDs "VD." Everything was different.

This man is 39 years old and I know his kids. One of them, his oldest,  graduated high school the same year as me, but we didn't know each other well. I don't think his family knows what he is doing, but it still makes me feel bad when he comes over and stays the night with my Granny when his wife thinks he is working the overnight shift.

And I don't like the way he acts. Even though he helps my Granny with bills and helped her get a car I don't think he has a right to hit her. He didn't used to hit her in front of me, but now sometimes he does.  I wish my Paw-Paw was still alive because he was a nice man and he never hit her. He died when I was a little girl, in a car accident. I can still remember his laugh.


(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.)

The bodies of the broken ones
 lay helpless, trampled
 on the battlefield
wincing, bloodied, throbbing with pain
 unable to escape
 to safety.

Unexploded bombs
 of unresolved issues
scattered in plain sight
 in the battleground
that has become our home.

Vulnerable to attack
 from all sides, at any moment
 I retreat, wounded
From the land mine that is your heart.

All this carnage
 --so much devastation
 by one man, so heavily armored
 wielding a solitary weapon:
 your tongue.

Breaking the Chain of Shame and Silence

(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.)

Most women have an IPV story to tell. Let’s break the chain of shame and silence against Domestic Violence……What’s your story?

Here’s mine…..Dating this guy and he showered me with gifts that covered up the subtle control. It started out as slow demands and put downs. “Go get the remote for me”, when he was closer to it than me and “take that outfit off it looks terrible”. After a while I started to protest his many demands and put downs. That’s when he stepped up his game in attempts to break me. 

He became physical when I turned down his sexual advances and kicked me out of the bed and I bruised my hip. He cried and apologized and I believed that it wouldn’t happen again. But of course it did, pulling my hair while I’m driving, choking, slapping, shoving, tracking my whereabouts and more verbal put downs. I had enough and took out a protection order against him. But it didn’t stop him, one day he showed up at the school where I taught and just walked in my classroom, he would leave gifts on my doorsteps and he followed me in the market where I shopped. 

When I would leave for work he would be standing on the corner of my street. I also found his brand of cigarette butts in the rear of my house. Plus, he had a connection at the phone company because; every time I changed my phone number he managed to get the new number. I kept calling the police, but he would always leave before they got there. One officer finally said, “off the record, I would get a gun if I were you”. 

I knew I was left to my own devices, so I used my contacts. I knew some people in the court system and as it turned out he had a bench warrant. I was told just give the word and we’ll have him picked up. The next time he called I told him I knew about his bench warrant, and stop bothering me or I will have you picked up and jailed. I needed to have something to hold over his head. 

And it worked. Didn’t hear from him anymore, but some years later I heard he had gotten married and I saw him and his wife at a concert. He was holding her hand and she looked scared. How well do I know what that look was about!! I felt so sorry for her.

By Asha Molock

HIV and Domestic Violence

(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.)

I am accustomed to seeing sad stories. In the impoverished district where I am employed as an HIV physician, domestic violence and HIV are common bedfellows. But this case was especially disheartening.

A shy mother of one, she had one failed marriage behind her when she met him online in a dating site for singles with HIV/AIDS.  Dating had been challenging for her as an HIV+ single mother, so she was glad to find someone kind and suitable who also shared her HIV status. After a lengthy courtship and many visits back and forth, he proposed and she accepted. They wed and she and her teenage daughter relocated so that they could start their new life together.

Things eventually deteriorated and he became abusive. Although he was a good stepfather and a good provider, the physical abuse was devastating to her. After an especially volatile brawl two years into their marriage, she'd had enough. She decided to leave. However, her daughter was unhappy about moving again, especially in the middle of the school year. She begged her mother to let her remain to finish the school year.

She was reluctant, but her daughter was a conscientious student and would lose the entire year if she was moved. And though her husband had struck her many times, he had never once hit her daughter. She decided that she would leave her with her stepfather and return to her hometown to secure a job and a flat. She would retrieve her daughter upon the completion of the school year.

Upon her return, she discovered terrible news. Her husband had molested her daughter in her absence. Not only was her daughter now also HIV+, she was now pregnant with her stepfather's child.

She went to the police and pressed charges. He was arrested and sentenced to prison for his crime. The mother and daughter are patients in my HIV clinic and I share their story with permission.

(Dr. Ed Mulago)

Encased in a Box

(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.)

I was whole, loving
trusting you.
Seduced by my anxieties
I merged with you
 and lost my identity.
For in your eyes, I
do not exist.

I became the mirror of your image of me
having no self outside you.
Your world became my reason for being—
your happiness was my only concern,
your disappointment, my failure.

I am ornamental,
 yet valueless:
 a mere reflection of
what and who I once was...

Your lover,
Now, your hostage
imprisoned in this framework—

All that is left are splinters,
jagged pieces of glass,
 the fragments of my being

Encased in a box,
 tightly wrapped and sealed
with masking tape of false bravado.
Appearing whole,
yet remaining shattered.


JoAnn Speaks Out! Violence Against Women with HIV

(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.)

Today is National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women with HIV. It is a day of action inviting people to join the call organized by the Positive Women's Network. The date was specifically chosen as part of October's Domestic Violence Awareness Month campaign. It's a call on anyone from anywhere to help raise awareness of these brutal acts of violence. The statistics are alarming and I wanted to do my part in spreading the message and hope that my readers will do the same however they can. I will be honest in saying that this is the first I'm hearing of it and I consider myself and do my best to be well-informed on the subject of violence against women. There is clearly so much more I need to learn and share.

Over 1/2 of women living with HIV have experienced intimate partner violence and of those abused women 92% of them are more likely to die than women who were not. Women living with HIV have been brutally murdered after revealing their positive status. In the past 2 years in Texas there have been two HIV-related murders which inspired this day of action by a group of women in the same state.

If you are interested in learning more and getting involved I have provided links for more information.

Positive Women's Network USA - Sign up for emails to learn more or donate to the cause.

Facebook/National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women with HIV - Post a message

Tweet using the hashtags - #SaveWomensLives #pwnspeaks #EndVAWHIV

I have also included a recent article on...

HIV, Intimate Partner Violence, and Women: New Opportunities Under the Affordable Care Act

This post was written by JoAnn Butaro, a survivor and blogger who blogs at JoAnn Speaks Out! Her post can also be found here.)

Aki's Triumph

(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.) I was just a teenager when my mother died. We both had AIDS, but I was stronger than she was. She was always sick even though she tried to fight. I was sick sometimes, but I was often well enough to attend school. But when my mother died, I could no longer attend school. I did not have money and no one wanted me to live with them because I had AIDS.

I decided to leave the village and move into town. I found a very nice family that let me work for them as a maid. The wife was a nurse and was educated about HIV/AIDS, so she was not worried about my status. The husband was a businessman and earned a good salary so they paid me well. The children were very sweet and I loved playing with them. There was a clinic only two hours away where I could get my HIV medication and did not have to travel for nearly a day like when my mother and I lived in the village. I missed my mother, but things were going very well and I was happy.

After I had worked there for about a year, one Sunday, my boss, the lady of the house decided to go to the market with the children. I stayed home to clean. Her husband was upstairs sleeping, so he did not go with them. She told me to be quiet so that I would not wake him.

I was quiet. But he still woke up.At around one p.m. he came out calling, asking me, "where are you?" I shouted, "I am here sir." He said, "I am hungry. Please make some food."

I prepared the food and brought it to him in the bedroom. I placed the food on the table and the next minute he was all over me.
When he finished, he said if I told anyone what happened he would fire me.

I was scared. I wanted to tell the wife, but what if she didn't believe me? I needed my job. I had no place to live and I had no family. I needed a way to pay for my medication. I had no choice but to eat the secret and remain quiet.

 Unfortunately, now that it had started, it did not stop. He raped me many other times over the course of the next year - almost every time he and I were alone at home, which was often because the wife had to travel to her hometown several weekends a month to care for her elder brother who had become very ill.

I finally quit when I became pregnant by him. He wanted to force me to get abortion so that his wife would not know about us. I refused. I did not tell the wife what happened because she is a good woman and it would hurt her. I told her that I had found a boyfriend and wanted to leave my job to go be with him.

I have no family in this world except my daughter. She is beautiful. She does not have HIV.

I have had trouble finding work, but I will not give up hope. I will find a job, and I will send my daughter to school when she is older the way my mother sent me to school. And I will keep taking my medication so that I can live and she can finish school and have a better life.

No Remorse

(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.)

The fist beat my head
the foot beat my ribs
the hand pulled my hair
no remorse, no remorse,
no remorse.

Don't show me tenderness
or compassion on the TV
or movies
it sugar coats reality
and it wasn't mine.

Wash the dishes
cook the food
get the welfare check.

Never mind the pain
I know I can get numb soon.
He took something from me,
something beautiful,
and gave me rotten decay in return
no remorse, no remorse
no remorse.


(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.)

 your promises
 to love, to honor, to cherish
 to not hurt
 to not hit
 to listen

 my jaw, my knee, my arm, my eardrum, my lip
 my heart

 my trust in you
 in others
 in myself

 my dreams
 our love
 our future

 my self
 my being
 my spirit
 my will to live

 by you

Stopping the Cycle

(Trigger/Content warning: this post discusses domestic violence.)

 I have read a lot of statistics and personal testimonies about Domestic Violence situations. Most of us know the patterns. Most of us are familiar with the statistics. Oftentimes statistics are just numbers unless you or someone you know have become one and have lived that hell personally. Many of us have, including myself. While we can, and should, do our part as individuals and as groups, to lobby for protection, for awareness, and for support, we also need to realize that, as difficult as it may seem, each of us has been given free will.

While it may seem the most difficult thing to accept that we maintain some control of our destiny in most cases- especially after years of being told otherwise- it is ultimately the most empowering realization. I know it was for me. As a victim of the most extreme forms of physical and verbal domestic abuse for six years- having been beaten bloody and unconscious on a regular basis, having been raped and tortured almost daily- I came to a point where I knew that while I had the support of family and friends, it was ultimately me alone who would make the final decision to walk away from something that wasn't right and could no longer continue. That was probably the most difficult thing for me to do in my whole life.

I always believed that marriage is something you do not take lightly. I took the words "till death do us part" literally up to that point. My children- whom I loved and cherished more than anything in the world- were the product of this marriage. Up until I made this difficult decision, I thought it was my duty to God, and to my family to continue things as they were. Until I realized that "till death do us part" took on a whole new meaning. If I had stayed, this man would have killed me. Each beating escalated to the point that I was convinced this man will end my life at some point had I stayed.

Imagine how I felt the day I decided to walk away for my own safety and for the safety of my children. I didn't sneak out of the house. I waited for the father of my children to come home. I looked him in the face and told him I was leaving, and with escorts, I did so with my children and ran for three years in fear. Today, I have attained the financial stability to provide for my family after a long and hard road, that far exceeds the money my ex husband would not allow me to have in our marriage.

Today, I am engaged in a wonderful, healthy relationship that made me realize that I wasn't the problem all along as my ex husband told me every time I was beaten for offenses only unacceptable to him. I cannot promise you financial success after you leave a marriage, nor will I tell you that leaving a marriage or relationship is the right thing to do in a particular case. But I will tell you that the cycle of violence can end with you and with those whom you allow to help you should you find yourself trapped in an abusive relationship.

From the time I said "I do" I fell under the umbrella of statistics that show that a woman is battered every 15 seconds in this country. In the time it took you to read this, approximately 6 women were battered in one form or another by an intimate. What happens behind closed doors is not none of our business, because behind those closed doors could be your sister, your mother, your daughter, your friend..even you.

This is how I envision a stop in the cycle. I envision a candle that lights the way for others. I have a candle and perhaps others do as well. And that is a start, but imagine what happens when the flames of two or more candles join. They shine brighter and with greater strength but don't suffer in their individuality. So, I have a flame and maybe you or someone you know does also. What do you want to do with them? They could mean the difference between life and death for those who cannot yet make their voices heard.

By Rachel

I, the Butterfly

(Trigger/Content warning: This post contains references to abuse that readers may find to be triggering.)

Long ago,

A woman in love existed
free, and softly
I, the butterfly
with golden wings
flew into the trap of your open arms,
attracted and enraptured by your spell.

With seductive mystery
you spun the cocoon,
enveloping me within your love,
lulling me to complacency
with your sweetly disguised whispers
till I regressed to the poise of a caterpillar
with nonexistent grace,
lethargically inching along
going nowhere
but to hide in the leaves....

And deep within my heart, I yearn
to fly free again
alone and unhindered
high in the sky,
touching the clouds
exploring my world
rediscovering myself in the
metamorphosis of growth.

I, the butterfly
a creature of beauty
and capable of flight, I
break through the smothering cocoon
and take to my wings
to fly among those free in heart.

By Christine

Exercise CAUTION when reading triggering material

Dear readers,

Some of the material in this flash blog is graphic. It might be emotionally difficult to read, especially if you are a survivor of violence. Although we wish to promote awareness, we are equally if not more concerned with your safety and well-being! Please prioritize self-care and exercise caution when reading these posts - and feel free to skip ANY and/or all if you feel they might be traumatizing to read. Please see the following information from the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Center on Triggers, from the Psych Central website:

trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.

Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback. She/he will react to this flashback, trigger with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the trauma. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.
The senses identified as being the most common to trigger someone are sight and sound, followed by touch and smell, and taste close behind. A combination of the senses is identified as well, especially in situations that strongly resemble the original trauma. Although triggers are varied and diverse, there are often common themes.

  • Often someone who resembles the abuser or who has similar traits or objects (ie. clothing, hair color, distinctive walk).
  • Any situation where someone else is being abused (ie. anything from a raised eyebrow and verbal comment to actual physical abuse).
  • The object that was used to abuse
  • The objects that are associated with or were common in the household where the abuse took place (ie. alcohol, piece of furniture, time of year).
  • Any place or situation where the abuse took place (ie. specific locations in a house, holidays, family events, social settings).

  • Anything that sounds like anger (ie. raised voices, arguments, bangs and thumps, something breaking).
  • Anything that sounds like pain or fear (ie. crying, whispering, screaming).
  • Anything that might have been in the place or situation prior to, during, or after the abuse or reminds her/him of the abuse (ie. sirens, foghorns, music, cricket, chirping, car door closing).
  • Anything that resembles sounds that the abuser made (ie. whistling, footsteps, pop of can opening, tone of voice).
  • Words of abuse (ie. cursing, labels, put-downs, specific words used).

  • Anything that resembles the smell of the abuser (ie. tobacco, alcohol, drugs, after shave, perfume).
  • Any smells that resemble the place or situation where the abuse occurred (ie. food cooking ,wood, odors, alcohol).

  • Anything that resembles the abuse or things that occurred prior to or after the abuse (ie. certain physical touch, someone standing too close, petting an animal, the way someone approaches you).

  • Anything that is related to the abuse, prior to the abuse or after the abuse (ie. certain foods, alcohol, tobacco).

I Survived

Trigger/Content warning: This post contains an account of a sexual assault and murder.

I had just prepared supper for my family and we were seated in our house. Suddenly the dogs of our neighbour started barking viciously; we heard footsteps, and before we could even realise anything, our door was kicked open by men in huge boots, and carrying all manner of weapons. I was frightened. I knew they were members of the rebel militia Sabaot Land Defence Force.

They accused my husband of being a traitor, and they dragged the two of us out of the house. They then took us to the forest and raped me for days, taking it in turns and saying that I would pay the price on behalf of my husband, forgetting that they had already killed him. He was beheaded as I watched, and they buried him.

I escaped several days later. I pretended to fetch firewood to make food for the men and once I was out of their eyesight I fled to the nearest town.  I could not return to my hometown as it had been overtaken by militia.

I became pregnant as a result of the gang rape. I don't know which one of the men fathered my child. When I started going for antenatal care, I learned that not only was I pregnant as a result of the rapes, but I also contracted HIV.

Why? A WADV Poem, by Cyndi

Trigger/Content warning: This is a poem written from the perspective of a survivor of intimate partner violence and contains reference to instances of violence. 


I really must know and I just can't see,
Why you'd try so hard to hurt me.
If you'd only put all that effort to good use,
instead you give life to pain and abuse.
How you stand me up, accuse me of stuff,
scold me, curse me and acting like you did,
I dare not think to act like that, God forbid!
You really seem to go out of your way,
to hurts me with deeds and words that you say.
And then you act as if nothing is wrong,
And I allowed all this to go on for too long.
Our love, so I thought, was going somewhere,
And I felt God Himself had made us a pair.
Control took over and what a tail spin,
When you'd cause a fight and you'd always win.
You took my heart, my soul and spirit, then beat them down
Then I learn you screwed most of the chicks in town.
In the mix I lost something that I've yet to find I guess I know why they say love is blind.

(Many thanks to Cyndi and WADV for sharing this poem)

NNEDV Resources: How To Get Help If You Are Being Abused

First and foremost, know that you are not alone and that the abuse is not your fault.  If you are in an abusive relationship or think that you are, safety and support are critical.


If you are in an abusive relationship, it is important to get support.  Someone who batters is usually very good at getting their partner isolated away from their family and friends.  As a result, victims often begin to feel ashamed and alone and believe that no one would understand.  Many survivors have even described feeling as if they didn’t even know who they were anymore.  This makes it even more difficult to survive the abuse, to sort through the feelings and to make decisions that will be best for you and your children.
If you find that you don’t have anyone to talk to, consider calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline or a domestic violence program in your area.  Hotline operators are specially trained in domestic violence and are available 24 hours a day to provide resources, help with options to stay safe or just to listen.
Support groups are another option to consider.  Beside offering shelter, many domestic violence programs also offer support groups.  These groups offer a safe place to talk about your feelings and experiences in an atmosphere free of judgment.  It’s also an opportunity to meet and talk with other people who have had similar experiences.

Planning for Safety

If you think you are in an abusive relationship, it is important to make a plan to keep yourself and your children safe.  Think of a safety plan like keeping an emergency kit in your car.  Hopefully you won’t need it but if you do, it could save your life.  Here are some things to consider:
In an abusive relationship:
  • Plan how you could get out of the house quickly if your partner becomes violent.  Try to position yourself near a door where you can escape quickly.
  • Put together a suitcase and keep it at a friend or family member’s house.  Put in it clothes for you and the children, needed medicines, important papers, car keys, photographs, money, and emergency phone numbers.  Add anything else you might need if you have to leave suddenly.
  • Tell neighbors about the abuse and have them call the police if they hear noises coming from your house.
  • Talk to your children about how they can keep themselves safe as well.
If you are thinking about leaving a battering relationship:
  • Identify things that have worked in the past to keep you safe.
  • Think about what has happened in the past and how the abuser has acted.  Identify clues that indicate when things might become violent (i.e. behavioral -- body language, drug/alcohol use, etc. -- and event driven -- paydays, holidays, etc.).
  • Identify what you will do if the violence starts again.  Can you call the police?  Is there a phone in the house?  Can you work out a signal with the children or neighbors to call the police or get help?
  • Explore ways to have dangerous weapons (i.e. guns, hunting knives, etc.) removed from the house.
  • Plan an escape route and practice it.  Know where you can go and who you can call for help.  Keep a list of addresses and phone numbers where you can go in crisis and keep them in a safe place.
  • If possible, open a bank account or hide money to establish or increase independence (more financial tips).
  • Gather together the following items and hide them with a trusted individual or somewhere accessible outside the home:
    • Money/cab fare
    • Check book
    • Credit card/ATM card
    • Order of Protection
    • Passport
    • Immigration documents
    • Work permit
    • Public Assistance ID
    • Driver's license and registration
    • Social Security card
    • Your partner's Social Security number
    • Medical records
    • Insurance policies
    • Police records
    • Record of violence
    • Children's school and immunization records
    • Lease
    • Birth certificates
    • Baby's things (diapers, formula, medication)
    • Medications
    • Clothing
    • Eye glasses
    • Family pictures
    • Address book
    • Important telephone numbers
    • Mobile phone/coins to use a pay phone
After leaving:
  • Change the locks on doors and windows (if the abuser has a key or access to a key).
  • Increase the police's ability to find your house by having a large visible street address outside the house.
  • Obtain a P.O. Box and forward all your mail to it.
  • Ensure that utility companies will not give out your information to your abuser (more information about confidentiality for victims of domestic violence).
  • Determine the safest way to communicate with the abuser if they must have contact.  If you agree to meet, always do it in a public place (preferably a place with a security guard or police officer), and it's best to bring someone else.  Make sure you are not followed home.
  • If your partner follows you in the car, drive to a hospital or fire station and keep honking the horn.
  • Create a safety plan for leaving work.  Talk with your supervisor and building security at work and provide a picture of the abuser, if possible.  If you have an Order of Protection, give the security guard or receptionist a copy.
  • Teach your children a safety plan, including calling the police or family and friends if they are taken and where to go during an emergency.
  • Talk to your schools and childcare provider about who has permission to pick up the children and develop other special provisions to protect the children.
  • Keep a journal of harassing phone calls and times you may see your abuser around the work place or neighborhood.  Save and/or print any threatening emails.  Keep a journal of anything that happens between you, the abuser, and the children regarding visitation.

Sara's Story

Trigger/Content Warning: This post contains references to physical and verbal abuse as well as substance use.

I was twenty-nine years old and had been seeing a certain young man exclusively for a few months. One day the man in my life, Mark, went to the local county health department for a sore he thought might be herpes. When he told me the nurses there had confirmed it as herpes, I thought the responsible thing to do would be to find out if I had it as well. At the health department, I was told that since I didn’t have a sore that could be cultured, they could not test me for herpes; but how would I like to have an AIDS test? They were offering it to everyone these days.

I was embarrassed and confused. I felt that a refusal of this AIDS test would be tantamount to a confession of illicit drug use or promiscuity. I had heard that anyone can get AIDS, but I still felt I was in a very low risk group. I agreed to the test and was told to come back in a week for my results.

A week later, I sat in the waiting area for two hours waiting to get my results. I was finally taken to a private exam room by two women. They apologized for making me wait for so long and then explained that the reason for my wait was because they were trying to figure out how to handle the situation. My test was positive. Almost everyone who tests positive is either gay or on drugs or suspects they are positive for some reason. Here I was a heterosexual female, non-drug user, non-prostitute, and I was really giving them a problem.

Then they told me it was just a “screening” test, which was called an ELISA. They said I was not in any risk group, and it would most likely turn out to be negative when I was given the “confirmatory” test. They wanted to know if I’d been recently pregnant, but they didn't inform me of anything else that could cause a false positive result.

I said, “I have a live-in boyfriend. I don’t want to scare him unnecessarily, but I don’t want to not tell him either. And we have sex practically every night.” I was told to buy some condoms on the way home and to tell him nothing. This advice was abhorrent and absurd to me. It upset me as much as the test did at the time.

I went straight to my most trusted friend and told her what had happened. She advised I should tell Mark, which I did immediately when I got home. I also told her that I would kill myself if the positive result was confirmed. I’m not sure what she said to that. I was uncontrollably crying my eyes out at the time.

When I got the “confirmation”, I felt my life was over. I can remember looking at my cat and wondering what would happen to her when I died.

And then there was Mark. Much to my surprise he wanted to continue the relationship! He said he would stay with me! WOW! I thought God had sent me an angel. Mark and I were married a few months later, and I spent the next nine years living my life for him. But not long after we were married, Mark changed. The sweet, loving guys I once knew was gradually replaced by someone else. Mark had used drugs recreationally during our the time we were dating, but as he slid deeper and deeper into addiction he changed for the worse.  But I made excuses for the way he treated me because I loved him and because the guilt I felt about my HIV status was ever present. It caused me to put up with abuse that was mental, emotional, financial, verbal and physical that would have never been tolerated by my previously HIV-negative self.

During this whole time I sat up a lot of nights crying and reading Psalms. I also sought a lot of advice in the course of trying to save my marriage – a goal solely determined by the presence of the HIV label. By now I had learned how to block out the abuse, but my employer, family, and friends were threatening to call the police on Mark if they saw me beaten up one more time, so I sought help. I went to my pastor who told me to get divorced and wanted to have me put on Prozac when I said I would rather continue to work on my marriage. I refused the psyche drugs. I was then referred by my HIV doctor to a licensed clinical social worker.

Mark and I also saw a clinical psychologist, also recommended by my doc, who told me I was addicted to my marriage and actually convinced me to file for divorce which I finally did. However, not long afterward I was completely destroyed by what I had done in filing for divorce and stopped the proceedings. I begged Mark to come back to me. He did, and I continued to search for solutions to our problems.

More years passed.  I learned to ignore the verbal abuse; and the physical abuse had been abated simply because I asked nothing of Mark at all, not even the simple, polite niceties one would expect in the most remote of encounters with another. Mark, who had lost his job due to his erratic behavior and insubordination, was now a full-fledged addict and was completely dependent upon me to survive.  My job paid for our living expenses, food, all the bills, and of course the money he needed to get high.  Mark was more worried about getting high than hitting me, so I seldom got black eyes or loose teeth anymore. But then my health took a turn for the worse and I had to take a temporary leave of absence from work to recover from my illness.  Instead of being sympathetic, Mark was furious.  The threat of losing his meal ticket brought on a new wave of violent behavior, and for the first time I was more frightened of Mark than I was of HIV. Tired of being treated badly, I kicked Mark out filed again for divorce. And this time I felt strong enough to go through with it.

He Raped Me Because I Have HIV

Trigger/Content Warning: This post contains graphic descriptions of physical and sexual acts/abuse, as well as profanity and gender and racial language. 

All my friends knew that I was planning to lose my virginity to my boyfriend after Homecoming of my sophomore year of high school. And I did. But not at all the way I planned. What was supposed to be romantic and sweet turned into the most fucked up night of my life.

Johnny and I started dating in the summer in between my freshman and sophomore year of high school.  We were both in summer school. I didn't know any of the kids in my class well because they were all older. Even though I had just finished ninth grade, I was only in summer school to take a couple of classes early to get them out of the way so I could try to graduate high school early. Johnny was there repeating a class because of excessive absences. Even though he was really hot, I didn't pay him much attention because I'm not into athletes. I like smart guys and skater guys. But one day Johnny read something in class about the person who most inspired him - his little sister. She had cancer and almost died during the spring semester. I saw how he emotional he was and how he fought back tears. I realized that her illness was probably why he'd had excessive absences in the first place. He was no "dumb athlete." He seemed sensitive and different. After that day, we became friends. A few weeks later, he asked me out. We'd been together ever since.

It was October. We'd been a couple for over four months. Johnny was popular, nice, cute, blond, and a senior. He could have had any girl, but he chose me. We were together all the time. He called and texted me every day. We went to the movies and to the beach and bowling and to parties. We had dinner with each other's families. We did homework together.

I knew he wasn't fucking over me because I had all his passwords and he let me check his phone anytime I wanted. He walked me to my classes, holding my hand. He didn't care that I was black. He even told me he thought some of the stuff I hated about myself - like my brown skin, long crazy dark hair that was always curling up and frizzing, and my round big butt - were gorgeous.

Other guys I'd dated had a problem with me being a virgin and tried to pressure me to have sex. Not Johnny. He respected me. He was surprised when I told him, but he said that even though he really wanted to fuck, he would wait until I was ready. He was so sweet. He said he was cool with the virgin thing as long as he could still come, so I tried to make sure I pleased him. I had never sucked anybody's dick before, but I learned how to do it for him. I looked it up online so I could do a good job. He always moaned really loud and started going crazy every time I sucked his dick. He was surprised the first time I did it when I confessed that I had never done it before. He said I did it better than his ex-girlfriend Heather, and she was a whole two years older than me and has been going down on guys for a long time. That was pretty awesome to hear.

Johnny wasn't selfish. He liked to make me come too. I loved it when he sucked on my tits and then flicked his tongue across my pussy and up and down my clit. It made me feel like I was on fire inside.

I loved Johnny, so much. I had decided that if we were still together after Homecoming I was going to give myself to him. And I knew we would still be together because I loved him and he loved me. I loved him so much that I wanted to keep him safe. So even though it was really embarrassing, I bought some condoms from Wal-Mart for our romantic night together. I have HIV and I didn't want him to get it from me when we had sex. I cared about his health and wanted us to be together forever. I hadn't told him I had HIV, but I knew he wouldn't care. He already knew I was adopted and that most of my brothers and sisters and I were from different countries. He knew my mom and dad were old fashioned and stuff. That's why we were going to have sex at his house instead of mine - because my parents didn't let me have boys in my room, but his parents didn't  care if he had girls go in his room. His parents were barely ever even at home.

Homecoming night after the game we were alone in his room like we planned. We were both naked and excited, but we had to be fast because I couldn't stay out too late. I couldn't believe I was about to make love to the love of my life. Johnny was so turned on by me; his dick was as hard as a rock.  I bent down and kissed it, then I kissed him on the forehead. He smiled. I smiled back and got up to get my purse. I pulled out the condoms and handed them to Johnny.

"We don't need those," he said. "You're a virgin, so you're clean. You already know I'm clean because I had my school sports physical before the season starts. I'm going to pull out so you don't get pregnant. I don't like condoms."

"I really think we should use them," I said. "You can't feel anything," he said. "I'd rather jack off than use condoms," he joked. "Come on. I'll go easy on you. We don't need that stuff. Let's get started."

"Johnny, we need to use them. I have HIV."

He looked at me like I had grown three heads. "What the fuck?!?! How can you have AIDS if you're a virgin? Do you use drugs or some shit? That's really fucked up."

"I don't use drugs. And if don't have AIDS. I said I have HIV. I was born with it. I'm healthy though. We just need to use the condoms."

"Are you fucking crazy? You think just because I'm not on honor roll like you that I'm fucking stupid? You're 15. Nobody gets born with that shit anymore; they have meds. Either you're lying about being a virgin or you use drugs. Don't give me some blood transfusion shit either. I know that's a lie. I fucking watch the news."

"People are still born with it, Johnny." I blinked back tears. Why was he acting like this? "Who the fuck cares how I got it anyway? I take meds. I'm healthy. I'm still me. The same me I was five minutes ago. I spent MY money to buy this shit for you, not for me. Because I love you. I'm trying to look out for you. Look, if you don't want to use the condoms, fine. But I'm not going to do it with you unless we use them. So we can use them and have a good time, or I can get dressed and leave. It's your choice."

"Who the fuck are you threatening, bitch?" he yelled. "So you can fuck all these other guys without a condom, but now that one of them gave you AIDS I have to use a condom? My brother told me not to trust black bitches; they're nothing but some fucking hos. He was right. You're a liar and a ho. All these months I've been with you and you lied about everything. Lying bitch." His face contorted in anger as tears ran down his cheeks. His eyes were flashing. I'd never seen him like that before.

"I've been faithful to you all these months. All kinds of girls have been throwing themselves at me, but I turned every last one of them down. I haven't had any pussy since we've been together. I treated you like a lady, but you're nothing but a lying ho bitch."

"I'm not a liar, Johnny. That's really fucked up that you're acting like this.  I've been faithful to you too. I'm the same girl you fell in love with. I've been taking meds all my life. I'm undetectable and you can't even tell I have HIV. If we fucked without a condom you probably wouldn't even get HIV from me because I have like almost none left in my blood and my body because of the meds. But I love you enough to want to be sure. That's why I even told you. I could have kept it to myself; I didn't have to tell you anything. You're fucking calling me all these names and shit and that's not cool. I know you're mad, but that's still not cool. I'm not calling YOU any fucking names and I easily could. I mean, you've been fucking girls since you were in 8th grade. You're 17 and you've already fucked 8 girls. I could be calling YOU a ho for that, but I'm not. Let's calm down. This conversation isn't going right." I was crying too. This was worse than ANYTHING I could have ever imagined.

"I know you're lying," he said. "This shit doesn't make any sense."

"I'm NOT fucking lying. Who would make up some shit like this? I didn't think you of all people would flip out, my own damn boyfriend. I'm NOT making it up. Ask anybody who went to elementary or middle school with me if I'm HIV+. Just ask. Almost the whole damn school knew. It's not a fucking secret. If we were in the same grade you'd have known too. Everybody fucking knows. And until today, nobody even fucking cared. It's like such a non-issue that it never even comes up."

"Yeah, right," he sneered.

"You're acting like a baby. Grow the hell up. Who the fuck cares if I have HIV or not? You're not the guy I thought you were. You're fucking ignorant and rude. No way am I giving my virginity to you, Johnny. I'll wait for a guy with a fucking brain. I'm breaking up with you. I don't love you anymore and don't want to deal with your stupid ass bullshit. I see what you're really about. Go get a fucking cheerleader or something. We're done."

"You're breaking up with ME?" He screamed. "Fuck you."

"No, fuck YOU!" I shouted back.

"Fine, if you insist, bitch. I will," he said. He grabbed the condoms out of my hands and ripped open the package. He rolled it on to his dick, which was for some reason still kind of hard after all the time we'd been arguing.

"What the fuck are you doing? I'm not fucking you after you talked to me like that, Johnny. You can kiss my ass."

"After all you put me through you're going to give me something for my trouble; fuck that," he said.

"You got me fucked up, Johnny. I'm not giving you shit. You had your chance, dumbass. You're never getting this pussy. I don't want to ever speak to you again. I'm going home."

"Whatever, bitch. You fucked all those other guys and you're going to fuck me. Right fucking now." He grabbed his dick and stroked it.

"Fuck that. And fuck you. I'm getting dressed and going home," I said, starting to stand. Johnny pushed me down and slapped me across my face.

The next was a blur. I stood up again and he slapped me across my breasts. Then he pushed me face down on the bed. I screamed, but no one was home to hear me. As usual, his parents were out. It was just us.

I started crying. "Please," I whimpered. "Let me go home." Johnny ignored me. With a savage thrust he pushed his whole dick inside my ass. I felt like it was tearing every part of my muscle. It hurt so badly. The only thing that hurt worse was my heart.

"This is how you AIDS bitches like it, right? In the ass? Fucking bitch," he sneered.  He thrusted in and out, in and out. My ass was hurting and bleeding. I have a friend who's gay and he said that when he and his boyfriend fucked the first time they used some sticky stuff to make it easier and they went really slowly and gently because the first time you go anal you have to be careful. Johnny wasn't doing that. He was just pushing in and out, in and out. It hurt so badly. I screamed and screamed, but he kept going.

Then he pulled out. I was relieved, thinking about leaving. Then he started fumbling inside my vaginal lips with his fingers until he found my hole. He then rammed his dick - with the same dirty bloody condom that probably had my poop all over it - and started raping me in the front too. It hurt like hell. When I screamed even louder, he pushed my face deeper into the pillows to shut me up. He pushed his dick all the way inside my dry, tight pussy. I couldn't believe I was losing my virginity like this. This wasn't supposed to happen to me. I was a good girl who made straight A's and loved dogs and was respectful to adults. I wasn't supposed to get hit. I wasn't supposed to get raped.

I lost track of time. It was probably short, but it felt like forever. Finally he started coming and then when he was done he pulled out. I turned my head and glanced over at him. He looked down at the floor. "I'm sorry," he said. "I guess you really were a virgin. Your shit was really tight."

I couldn't answer him. All I could do is cry. I couldn't move. I lay there and pressed my face back in the pillow, my body and my soul racking with pain as I cried and cried.

He apologized over and over. I barely heard him. I felt like a zombie as I stood up, limped to the restroom, and stepped into the shower. I turned the water on and scrubbed. I scrubbed and scrubbed, but I couldn't wash the dirty off. I cried in the shower, my tears mixing in with the shower water. I knew I'd never be the same again.

I'm in college now. I never told anyone about this until I started seeing the therapist on campus last year because I was having anxiety attacks. My parents still don't know.

I am trying to heal and move on from this. What Johnny did to me was wrong. No one should have to be hurt by others because they're a woman, or because they're HIV+.  Violence against women living with HIV has got to end.


Why every woman and girl should care about HIV/AIDS

I am not HIV positive. But, I easily could be.

I am a woman who was at one time a teenage girl in a toxic and abusive relationship. I was hopelessly in love with someone who was violent and cruel. I felt helpless, lost and isolated. During that relationship, I struggled to regain my voice and my independence. It never crossed my mind that I could be at risk for HIV.

Why would HIV have entered my mind? So often perceived as something that only happens to "other people," virus is a stigmatized condition that even today is still sadly thought to be deserved by those who have it. But in reality, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is simply that — a virus. Spread through four bodily fluids — blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk -- it is most often transmitted through sexual contact or the sharing of syringes with an HIV+ person (side note: syringes include used tattoo instruments and steroid needles).

What I didn't realize at my young age, was that being in an abusive relationship made me more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections — including HIV. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, women in abusive relationships are more likely to get HIV due to a number of factors.

Abusive men are more likely to have multiple sexual partners, women in these relationships are more likely to be forced to have sex and less likely to be able to require their partner to wear a condom. Women who have experienced sexual abuse at a young age are also more susceptible due to unresolved trauma of these experiences that results in higher risk sexual decision-making that often lasts into adulthood.

HIV/AIDS affects millions of women and girls in the United States, and many more across the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost one-quarter of the teens and adults diagnosed with HIV in the United States each year are women — yet many women and girls are unaware of their risk of contracting HIV. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, nearly 5,000 women had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Alabama as of the end of 2012. Last year alone, 129 women and girls in the state learned that they are living with the disease. African-American women made up the majority of these cases, being diagnosed at a rate that is 10 times that of their White counterparts. The vast majority of women became infected through heterosexual contact (i.e., sex with a man).

The fight to end HIV/AIDS will require that women step up to educate our communities, and embrace those who are living with the disease. The end of HIV/AIDS among women will require an end to abuse, intimidation and silence. It will require equitable access to reproductive health care for all women, comprehensive sexual health education and an end to stigma and discrimination against those who are affected. The end of the disease begins with a conversation that maybe someone has been too afraid to have before now.

It begins when you find your voice. It begins with you.

By Dafina Ward, JD

(This post can also be found at

Monday, October 13, 2014

Join our virtual event to #EndVAWHIV!

We need YOUR help; participate in a FREE, worldwide virtual event for the Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living With HIV! #EndVAWHIV #SaveWomensLives

In part because of successful advocacy efforts of Texas female leaders to address the brutal 2012 and 2014 murders of Elisha Henson and Cicely Bolden, Positive Women's Network-USA is spearheading this national inaugural day to coincide with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. An astonishing 3 out of every 4 women living with HIV have experienced violence during their lifetime. The devastating combination of violence and HIV results in higher rates of mental health diagnoses such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety as well as greater likelihood of virologic failure and/or death. HIV+ transwomen report even higher rates of violence. These destructive trends cannot continue!

Throughout the US there will be local and virtual events of all types to commemorate the Day of Action during the week of October 23, 2014. Advocates in Houston, Texas from Advocacy Without Borders and the Positive Organizing Project of Legacv Community Heath Services are coordinating a virtual event to raise awareness as well as pay tribute to positive women and girls, including our transgender sisters, whom have experienced violence.  Here's how you can help!

*****Participate in our flash blog!*****

We will be hosting an online "flash blog" and would love for you to join in! A flash blog is a collection of individual writings, images, art, poetry, etc about a particular topic written by different people that are all shared in one place [usually a dedicated blog address] on the same day.

We are seeking posts about violence and women living with, affected by and at risk for HIV, including our trans sisters.  You can share just a name and a date; you can share a detailed story; you can share a poem, song, pictures...whatever you'd like.  Feel free to use a pseudonym or initials if you don't want your identity or the identity of the person you are referencing to be known, or state that you'd like your post to be anonymous. We will share all the posts that we receive at various intervals throughout the Day of Action (October 23, 2014) at

Please send us your flash blog contribution and/or contact us for more details at

*In addition to the flash blog, here are some other virtual ways that you can get involved!*

1) Signal boost the Day of Action! Share the memes, post about the day in your statuses, inform people at meetings and on conference calls and in groups, etc.  (Be certain to use hashtags related to the day such as #EndVAWHIV, and more general domestic violence hashtags such as #SaveWomensLives.  A comprehensive social media toolkit from PWN-USA is available here containing sample tweets, statistics, suggested activities for engaging people on social media, etc.)

2) Change your social media profile pic to honor the Day of Action, & encourage others to do so!

     Consider using this image:

    Or perhaps this one:

3) Distribute the PWN-USA fact sheet to educate people about violence and HIV.  It can be sent via your email list-serves, tweeted, etc. It is available here.

4) Engage in advocacy surrounding Elisha Henson's murder to demonstrate solidarity and support. Details about some ways that this can be done can be found here.

5) "Join" the Day of Action Facebook online event if you have not done so already, and also share the event widely! It is available here.